Doing Things Differently at the 2012 Democratic and Republican Conventions
Protests at both Republican and Democratic convention have become a tradition, even though there is little to no continuity in who protests where about what. It doesn’t matter which party holds the Presidency, or what has happened in the previous four years, there is always something to protest. Consequently, Congress gives each convention city fifty million dollars to pay for security. With that, they bring in law enforcement from all over the country to supplement their own troops. At Tampa, the cops were mostly sheriff’s deputies from surrounding counties. In Charlotte, they were municipal police from big cities.
Until 2004, marches have always been bigger at Democratic conventions. In 2008 the main marches were similar in size. In 2012 the Democrats once again claimed the size prize, though Mother Nature may have tipped the balance. A threatening hurricane caused many busses carrying protestors to Tampa to cancel; the ones that arrived were already on their way.
The protests are usually organized by a local coalition of left-wing groups, sometimes with the help of local unions. National organizations occasionally have their own rallies and actions. Historically, there has been a big march on Sunday, the day before the convention officially opened. Since the media usually arrived by Saturday (in time for the media party) but didn’t have much to write about for the Monday papers, this was prime time for press coverage. In 2012 the March on the RNC was held on Monday and the March on Wall Street South on Sunday. There was little about either of these to distinguish them from the many other marches during convention week. Most were tiny.
Convention cities try to keep protestors out of the way. Years ago federal courts held that protest was protected first-amendment activity and space had to be provided for rallies in sight and sound of wherever the conventions conducted their business. Convention cities provide a protest stage someplace that meets this requirement. Usually it is hard to get to and unlikely to be seen by anyone actually attending the convention. It is rare for there to be much of an audience for anyone on the stage unless one of the marches decides to end at the official protest space.
In Tampa, most of the marches began at outlying parks. Some marched to the protest zone and then marched back. In Charlotte, the protest zone was so out-of-the-way that none of the marches went there. Although the parks departments of both cities provided stages and microphones, they were seldom used by any but the usual sidewalk preachers.
In the past, police have been very heavy-handed with convention protestors. At both of the 2012 conventions police exercised restraint, letting each group’s marshals handle potential disruptions rather than moving in fast, and ignoring technical violations of the law which were only symbolic. Only two people were arrested in Tampa and 25 in Charlotte.
None of the multiple marches held at the Republican convention attracted more than 300 people, though there may have been more participants than that overall. While the marches had different main themes, most of the signs and banners were recycled.
At the Democratic convention, Sunday’s rally and March on Wall Street South attracted about 1,200 participants. It was the single biggest protest at either convention. Charlotte is the largest banking center outside New York, making it an attractive target at a time when banks were seen as bad guys.